Revamped courtyard murals provide space for creative freedom


Lindsay Ruhl

Freshmen Piper Boatright, Dani Kote and Ivy May continue working on Boatright’s courtyard mural. The mural will consist of a sun goddess rising through the clouds.

Callan Cucchi

Student murals bring the courtyards and hallways to life across campus, reflecting the artistic minds of students.

Currently, four new murals are being produced in the lower courtyard and one in the E100 hallway. Some, such as those being produced outside the media center, are a product of past murals being repurposed.

“There was [a mural] outside of the media center, a collage that was made a number of years ago by sticking together pages of magazines that were timely at the moment,” art teacher John Brandhorst said. “New artists are putting together new images that are going to be put on top of it to create this kind of historical mural. We’ll keep adding to it every year and create a finished project that results from collaboration.”

In order to submit designs for consideration, students are required to take a picture of the location where they want to create a mural. Then, they have the option to either digitally draw on the photograph or print a copy and physically draw it. This allows Brandhorst to get a sense of the site, rather than just the image.

“I take a look at all the proposals and talk to the students about them to try and gauge how ready they are to start creating it and what their time is like,” Brandhorst said. “Then I go to [principal] Dr. Bockman and present them to her. If she sees that people are highly motivated and logistically ready, she’s all for supporting us. This is meant to lift and to elevate and make people want to stand in front of it and think, ‘Yeah, I go to a school where they let us tag our own walls.’”

Though primarily a project of Midtown’s Art Club, all students may submit proposals.

“There are obviously people I don’t know, who are walking around with great skill that just haven’t taken the class,” Brandhorst said. “If someone comes up to me and says, ‘Hey I have this idea,’ those are the magic words.”

Junior Aisling Mahoney found a sense of school pride in creating her mural, which will be located in the lower courtyard.

“This whole experience has shown me that there is way more encouragement for creation at Midtown than I really thought there was,” Mahoney said. “Mr. Brandhorst is constantly asking us to come up with new proposals for murals and other pieces, because he wants our voices to be the ones heard in our environment. It’s made me realize just how much realistic representation of the student body is necessary in art around the school.”

Funding for the projects comes from the Vans Custom Culture Grant, a program designed to provide students with, “high quality learning experiences in the arts.” Ten schools across the country are granted $2,000 to spend on art supplies and other necessary materials.

“The grant deals with schools that are doing something that is forward conceptually, that is urban, that is cool and hip,” Brandhorst said. “We had these walls and these great artists, and we said, ‘We’re going to do fresh murals on these walls.’ They gave us all the money for the paint, and shirts and all kinds of cool stuff. That’s kind of where everything started.”

For freshmen like Piper Boatright, the murals provide an opportunity to make their mark on their school.

“I never thought I would kick off my high school experience by painting a mural,” Boatright said. “Middle school was very strict, and I thought high school would be even worse — but here I am a year later, literally drawing on the walls. I have so much more creative freedom here, which I’m super happy about.”

For some, like senior Samadhi Grandstaff, selecting a design for the mural is the most difficult part of the mural process.

“I’ve learned just how challenging creating art can be for me sometimes,” Grandstaff said. “I’m a very intuitive artist, and most of my work comes in waves of spontaneity; so, to have to sit down and really plan out a mural was much more challenging than I’d originally thought it was going to be.”

The murals are meant to provide a space for creative freedom and self expression throughout the Midtown community.

“I hope the murals become something uplifting, and that people see them and know the location by where a mural is,” Brandhorst said. “They know that their friend did that or helped with it and that they can do it, too. I want it to create that momentum to be creative about things. If it’s not about doing the mural itself, it’s getting your picture in front of it or posting it on instagram or anything of that sort. I hope it inspires that openness for expression.”

Overall, students find the murals reflect the values of the community, providing an opportunity for them to explore the depths of their imagination.

“I think the art and student murals are what differentiate Midtown from other high schools,” senior Futa Kakinuma said. “[Art] gives the setting a much more fresh and fun feel, almost as if you’re at a gallery when you’re at the courtyard rather than a school. It almost shows that the school’s focus isn’t just academics. Rather it’s a place for students to imagine, explore and flourish through their youth.”